So last night, I was home alone sipping some cognac when the Large Hadron Collider was fired up. I was counting down from the night before conducting a little experiment of viewing my everyday life through the lens of the last day of human kind. Mind you, I didn’t really expect the world to wink out of existence as some of the doom-sayers feared, so I didn’t approach the day with reckless abandon as I presume most of us fantasize that we would. The again, I wonder in the terms of Kubla-Ross that even in the event that the ends times were real, there would be many of us going about our normal routines in denial of their demise.
In any event, I found this sort of thought experiment rather compelling, in its particular twist of taking down the entire planet and not just one life. To be sure the facing of our mortality is the stuff of existential thought and mid-life crisis. The Internet is full of “bucket list” inspired memes of what have you done and what have you left to do. But when you take into account the additional transience of human-kind and earth itself, it removes all notions of legacy from the equation. Gone are thoughts of what you’d like to leave your children or future generations, the hidden art works to be discovered and appreciated long after you are gone. Instead it forces immediacy in your thinking. This moment as your last one, absent the ability to be some cause to a future effect.
And yet, I went about my normal life, going to work, attending meetings, planning for future activities. It was absurd for me to be engaged in these activities in light of this experiment, but then again it caused me to look at these mundane and routine activities in a much different light.
One discovery for me, was just how much of this activity takes up as a percentage of my day. For someone who thinks he does a pretty good job living in the moment, I think only 4 out of 24 were spent doing something that didn’t have some element of obligation or deferred gratification. My job of course being the biggest offender, but there were other things: sleep, taking care of the animals, shopping, commuting, calling Verizon to modify billing. I mean, I know every day has some amount of this kind of activity, but 80 percent? If it truly was deferred gratification – just when would I see those results? Perhaps this is economically sound in terms of dollars, but what is the cost in terms of hedons – those mythical units of pleasure, so easy to squander and so hard to bank?
Of course this is the stuff of Buddhist enlightenment, embracing each moment for what it is and taking pleasure in that moment, and so I wonder if this is not also the stuff of enlightened hedonism? For it seems as long as we can link the things we do to the pleasure they will bring us, we can appreciate those things in anticipation of that experience. It’s when I view my job as a means to a paycheck, or an accumulation of wealth, with no clear idea of what I want to do with that wealth (and that means more than paying off debt), then I am disconnected from a great part of my day, and I lose those moments and the ability to take pleasure in them.
Another discovery for me, came from eliminating the notion of legacy. Usual thought experiments of facing mortality seem for me to always include fantasies of creating something to be discovered posthumously. It seems those fantasies are the products of my internal censor afraid to really share myself in the moment – as despite entertaining those fantasies, I still have yet to engage in any "secret" projects to warrant future discovery. Still the lesson for me in this again is to embrace immediacy, to put myself out, to share with my friends, and enjoy their immediate feedback. The longer I wait, the less I do.
The last discovery comes from then end. As silly as my countdown may have been, I found that in the “final” moments I was in a state of blissful exuberance. I can only think of the Toten Tanz of medieval black death cities and understand the sense of celebration. I was posting on boards, chatting on IM, and trading emails simply enjoying life and appreciating the moment. In terms of Kubla-Ross I had come to acceptance of my imaginary end and was fine with it, even celebratory with it. That is the experience I must learn to capture and turn back into the other 80 percent of my days.
The world didn’t end last night, but someday there will be an end. In the meantime, I am here; I’m alive, ready to take pleasure in all things both mundane and spectacular.
Cheers to another day without end.